Skip to main content

Library DIY: Primary Sources

Find how to locate a book, eBook, and articles, evaluate and cite sources, and access library services.

I Am Looking for Primary Sources

In the arts and humanities, a primary source is a source created during the historical period being studied. It documents the subject of study in some way. In the sciences, "primary source" refers to an original research study.

This page focuses on primary sources for the arts and humanities. Examples of such primary sources include: 

Newspaper accounts  Letters, diaries, and scrapbooks 
Government documents 
(research data, statistics, 
 congressional transcripts, laws, etc.) 
Personal accounts,
autobiographies,
memoirs
Images and museum artifacts Speeches
Data from scientific experiments Oral histories

Learn to tell the difference between primary and secondary sources by playing the Wheel of Sources.

1. Search the library

If you are looking for a specific item, search by title or author. Combine your topic with any of the following terms to locate primary sources:

To find any kind of primary source: Sources or documents (examples: medieval sources, civil war documents, papal sources)
Personal accounts, autobiographies, or memoirs: Personal narratives or Autobiography or memoir  (examples: Pearl Harbor personal narratives, battle of the bulge memoir, autobiography world war II)
Letters: Correspondence or letters (examples: Civil War correspondence, French revolution letters)
Diaries: Diary (examples: Civil War diary, woman diary France)
Oral history: Interview or oral history or speeches (examples: Cold War interview, Japanese internment oral history, Malcolm X speeches)
Photographs or artwork: Pictorial works (examples: Chicago pictorial works, World's Fair pictorial works)
 

2. Search Google Books.

If your topic relates to an event that occurred before 1923, there are likely relevant primary sources available in the public domain. Google Books has digitized and made available many such books.

Search for a specific work or for a general topic. Note, however, that Google Books also lists resources that are only available to preview. Look for resources with publication dates before 1923 and with a Read Preview link. The Advanced Book Search allows you to limit to Full view only books.

Screenshot of Google Books Advanced Search

[ B. D. Owens Library ] B.D. Owens Library | 800 University Dr. Maryville, MO 64468 | 660.562.1193 [ Twitter ] [ Facebook ] [ Instagram ] [ Spotify ] [ Pinterest ]